The Hoosier State knows how to wow visitors.
Indiana has more to offer group travelers than vast plains and big cities. From one end of the state to the other, groups can tap into gourmet food experiences, enjoy custom tours and demonstrations at world-class cultural and historical attractions and learn more about one of the largest populations of Amish in the U.S. From farm country on the plains to hilly locales more reminiscent of the Great Smoky Mountains, Indiana takes groups by surprise.
Northern Indiana Amish Country
Many people don’t realize that north central Indiana has the third-largest concentration of Amish residents in the U.S. The Amish are clustered around the communities of Middlebury, Shipshewana and Nappanee in Elkhart County, which is also considered the recreational vehicle capital of the world, as many of the largest RV manufacturers call the area home.
The Heritage Trail audio driving tour, produced by the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is a great first stop for groups wanting to learn more about the Amish and why they settled in Indiana. The tour stops at the main attractions in the area, from Amish businesses to farms. There are plenty of opportunities to interact with the Amish, from eating an Amish Haystack lunch prepared by an Amish family to tours of local Amish businesses that make baked goods, cheese, baskets, wind chimes and leather goods.
The Menno-Hof Amish Mennonite Interpretive Center in Shipshewana shares the story of the Amish and Mennonite peoples. Groups can schedule a backroads tour with different shopping experiences or visit the Barns at Nappanee, which offers an Amish house and farm tour, horse and buggy rides and farm table meals.
Every year from May to September, the area hosts a Quilt Gardens and Quilt Murals exhibition that features 16 gardens planted in different quilt patterns and 14 mural sites. In 2022, the show will celebrate its 15th anniversary with 53 life-size sculptures by Seward Johnson. Groups can tour an RV manufacturing plant; have a meal at Artisan, a AAA Four Diamond French restaurant in downtown Elkhart; or enjoy Ruthmere’s historic home tour, finishing up with tea and sweets in the Game Room.
The largest city in Indiana, Indianapolis has plenty to offer group travelers, from trendy restaurants, bars and cultural attractions to the largest collection of war memorials in the U.S. outside of Washington, D.C. A must-visit for groups is the Indianapolis Museum of Art and its Newfields campus. With more than 100 acres, beautiful gardens, a beer garden and art sculptures to explore, it is an excellent location for groups to spread out. Newfields recently rolled out “The Lume,” a buzzworthy exhibit that uses 150 state-of-the-art projectors to transform Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings into a three-dimensional visual experience.
Groups can start their tour of Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District with a stop at the Indiana War Memorial Museum. The district includes two museums, three parks and 25 acres of monuments, statues, sculptures and fountains, from the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza and American Legion Mall to the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum and the USS Indianapolis CA 35 Memorial.
The Bottleworks District is centered around what was once the largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in the world, which has been transformed into a 139-room boutique hotel, food hall, movie theater and entertainment destination. The district sits on the north end of Indy’s original cultural district, Massachusetts Avenue. Through 2 Eyes Walk and Talk Tours leads walking tours of traditionally African American neighborhoods in the city, including Indiana Avenue, Irvington and Martindale-Brightwood.
Foodies will want to make a stop at St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis’ most iconic restaurant; Bluebeard, which was themed after a Kurt Vonnegut novel of the same name; or The Inferno Room, a tiki bar in the city’s Fountain Square neighborhood.
Nashville and Brown County
Nashville is a small town in Brown County that is surrounded by state parks, national forests and several nature preserves, making it an outdoor lovers’ paradise. Indiana’s largest state park, Brown County State Park, is nicknamed Little Smokies because of its resemblance to the Great Smoky Mountains. Motorcoach groups can take a one-hour guided tour of its many features with a photo stop at the Ramp Creek Covered Bridge — Indiana’s only double-barreled covered bridge — and a visit to the park’s nature center.
One of the main group attractions in the area is the T.C. Steele State Historic Site. Groups can tour artist Theodore C. Steele’s painting-filled studio and home, the House of the Singing Woods, which has his original furnishings. The site sits on 211 acres, which include restored historic gardens, the historic Dewar Log Cabin, five hiking trails and the Selma N. Steele State Nature Preserve. For a day of fun, Explore Brown County offers zip lines, paintball, arrow tag, mountain biking, ATV and hill climb buggy tours of the area’s rugged terrain.
Other highlights include stopping at the welcome center at Hard Truth Hills, the home of Hard Truth Distilling, for tours and tastings, or visiting Bear Wallow Distillery, one of the first craft distilleries in the state, which uses only locally grown grains to make spirits in a copper pot still. Visitors can take a Farm-to-Fifth Tour and see how Bear Wallow’s corn whiskey is made or shop the distillery’s Eat Your Whiskey section for a special selection of whiskey-inspired edibles.
For a taste of history, many groups stop at Brown County History Center’s Pioneer Village, which is home to a two-story 1879 log jail; a two-story, dog-trot log building; and an authentically restored log cabin with pioneer period exhibits, a working blacksmith shop and an 1898 doctor’s office.
Corydon and Harrison County
Thirty minutes west of Louisville, Kentucky, and two hours from Indianapolis, Corydon and Harrison County make a great jumping-off point to see southern Indiana and western Kentucky.
Indiana’s first state capital was in Harrison County. Groups can tour the original capitol, which was in service from 1816 to 1825. For a more hands-on experience, groups like to visit Zimmerman Art Glass, which offers free demonstrations of how to make blown glass objects like ornaments and vases. When groups order in advance, everyone on the tour can get a glass paperweight or a glass art piece of their choice.
Downtown Corydon is full of boutique shops and antique stores. The restaurants in town are all locally owned. Groups like to be turned loose in the main square to find lunch on their own, as there’s no restaurant large enough to host bigger groups.
The county is known for its three cave systems: Indiana Caverns, which offers a partial walking tour and a partial underground boat tour; Squire Boone Caverns; and Marengo Cave, a historic landmark and one of the most-visited attractions in the area. Marengo offers the 40-minute Crystal Palace tour, which winds through formation-filled rooms and past huge flowstone deposits, and the 60-minute Dripstone Trail tour, which highlights delicate soda straws, totem pole stalagmites and the Penny Ceiling.
Turtle Run Winery offers a tour where groups can get into the production room to see how wine is made and paired with various foods and then taste the different wines made there. Harrison County is also home to the Battle of Corydon, one of only a handful of Civil War battles fought north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Groups can learn all about the battle at the Harrison County Discovery Center before taking a tour of Battle of Corydon Memorial Park.
New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville in southern Indiana all sit across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. Groups visiting Louisville often stay in these Indiana towns because they are only about a mile from the city and its top attractions.
Falls of the Ohio State Park is a top attraction on the Indiana side of the river. It has an interpretive center with hands-on exhibits that explore how the area has evolved over time. Groups can explore the 390 million-year-old Devonian fossil beds — the largest find of its kind in the world — and visit the 26 waterfalls, the only natural obstructions on the river. Explorer Meriwether Lewis met his partner, William Clark, at the Falls of the Ohio, where he was staying with his brother, to recruit nine Kentuckians to join them on their expedition west. Because of this meeting, Clarksville is an official stop on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
One of the area’s newest group attractions is Mesa. Billed as “a live dining show,” this establishment offers groups a chance to watch famous and aspiring chefs from the area prepare a meal for them. Each group gets to pick the menu and interact with the chef in an intimate setting while the chef prepares their meal. Mesa also offers cooking classes and cocktail competitions.
Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site is a 20,000-square-foot Victorian-era mansion that offers groups a unique dining experience. Staff will hide clues and murder weapons throughout the mansion, and visitors are invited to try and solve the Clue-style murder mystery as they sample cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and learn the history of the home. Other musts include the Derby Dinner Playhouse, which presents top Broadway shows, and participating in a tour and tasting at Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards and Starlight Distillery.